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Hear from our editors: Best easier-approval credit cards of May 2021

Updated April 30, 2021

This date may not reflect recent changes in individual terms.

Editorial note: Credit Vana receives compensation from third-party advertisers, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions. Our marketing partners don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. It’s accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted.

Written by: Ben Luthi

When your credit history needs some work, getting a decent credit card isn’t easy.

But just because you’re building or rebuilding credit, it doesn’t mean you have to settle for a bad card with steep fees. Here are some standout alternatives.

Best for rewards: Discover it® Secured Credit Card

Here’s why: This card offers rewards on every purchase you make.

The Discover it® Secured Credit Card offers 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 spent in combined purchases each quarter (then 1% once the quarterly cap is met). Plus you’ll get 1% back on all other purchases. Discover’s Cashback Match feature will match all of the cash back earned at the end of new cardholders’ first year, too.

While the card requires a security deposit of at least $200, Discover may refund your deposit after you’ve had the card for as little as eight months.

The card has a $0 annual fee and foreign transaction fee. That said, Discover isn’t accepted everywhere, so it’s a good idea to have a backup payment method if you take it abroad.

Read our editorial review of the Discover it® Secured Credit Card to find out if it’s right for you.

Best for college students: Deserve® EDU Mastercard

Here’s why: The Deserve® EDU Mastercard doesn’t require a credit history, or even a Social Security number if you’re an international student.

If you qualify for the card, you’ll get a free year of Amazon Prime Student when you spend $500 in the first three billing cycles using the card — plus 1% cash back on every purchase you make. Plus when you pay your cellphone bill with the card, you’ll get up to $600 in coverage if your phone gets stolen or damaged. You’ll get all that with a $0 annual fee. There’s also no foreign transaction fee, making it a solid choice if you’re planning to study abroad or head back home to another country.

If you’re a college student looking for a credit card, read our full review of the Deserve® EDU Mastercard to learn more.

Best for prequalification: Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® for Rebuilding Credit

Here’s why: If you have your heart set on an unsecured credit card but you’re concerned about your ability to qualify, the Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® for Rebuilding Credit may be a good fit.

If you apply on its website, Credit One Bank makes it easy to see if you prequalify — and the prequalification process doesn’t affect your credit. Knowing whether you prequalify before you apply could save you from an unnecessary ding from a hard inquiry on your credit scores.

This card also comes with regular credit limit reviews, which could help you build credit by decreasing your utilization if you qualify for a higher credit line and keep your spending the same.

Plus, you’ll earn 1% cash back rewards on eligible purchases, which is automatically applied as a statement credit.

Watch out, though: This card comes with an annual fee of $75 for the first year, $99 thereafter.

Best for limited credit: Platinum Mastercard® from Capital One®

Here’s why: The Platinum Mastercard® from Capital One® can help you establish a positive credit history, all with a $0 annual fee.

The card doesn’t have a lot of frills — there’s no rewards program or sign-up bonus. But if building credit is your priority, you can look forward to better rewards later.

The card offers the prospect of a higher credit line after six months. As you’re building credit, having a higher credit limit can help your credit utilization rate (your balance divided by your credit limit). The lower the utilization rate, the better.

The card also doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee. And since it’s a Mastercard, you shouldn’t have much trouble finding merchants that accept it while abroad.

Read our editorial review of the Platinum Mastercard® from Capital One® to decide if it’s right for you.

Best for no credit: Petal® 2 Visa® Credit Card

Here’s why: The Petal® 2 Visa® Credit Card eliminates the credit Catch-22: needing a credit history to get approved for credit but not being able to establish a credit history without credit.

If you’ve never used credit before, the card’s issuer makes its decision based on how financially responsible you are, making it a great first credit card.

Specifically, the Petal® 2 Visa® Credit Card has you connect your bank accounts to see how much you earn, and how you spend and save money. If the issuer determines that you’re a good fit based on how you manage your money, you’ll be approved.

If you do get approved, you can qualify for a credit limit of $500 to $10,000. And you won’t pay any fees with the card whatsoever.

The Petal® 2 Visa® Credit Card app not only gives you access to your account on the go, but also shows you how much interest you’ll pay on a purchase if you don’t pay your balance in full each month. This can help you manage your finances and build your credit in the process.

While you’re working on building your credit, you can also earn cash back rewards with the Petal® 2 Visa® Credit Card. The card offers 1% cash back on all purchases as soon as your account opens, and after making 12 on-time payments you can earn up to 1.5% cash back.

Read our editorial review of the Petal® 2 Visa® Credit Card to get more details.

How we picked these cards

There are plenty of easier-approval credit cards out there, but some of them charge sky-high fees or limit where you can use them. As a result, we focused on credit cards that can help you build credit without raiding your wallet.

More specifically, we looked at cards that charge low or no annual fees, offer rewards without restrictions and have features that make it easier to build your credit history.

How to make the most of easier-approval credit cards

These credit cards are relatively easy to get, but they’re not meant to be held onto for too long. Once you get your card, start using it to build your credit history. Be sure to make your payments on time every month, and consider paying the balance in full to avoid paying interest.

Also, keep your balance relatively low to maintain a good credit utilization rate. You can do this by using the card sparingly or making multiple payments each month.

Once you have a solid credit history and credit scores, you can apply for an unsecured card.

About the author: Ben Luthi is a personal finance freelance writer and credit cards expert. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business management and finance from Brigham Young University. In addition to Cr… Read more.

FAQ: Editors’ answers

Editorial Note: Credit Vana receives compensation from third-party advertisers, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions. Our marketing partners don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. It’s accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted. Read our Editorial Guidelines to learn more about our team.

What are the easiest cards to get if you have bad credit?
Secured cards, credit-builder cards and student cards are three types of credit cards that can be easier to get with bad credit or a limited credit history.
If you’re approved for a secured card, you’ll be required to put down a refundable security deposit to act as collateral in case you can’t repay what you charge on the card. In most cases, the amount you deposit will be the same as your credit limit. Some secured cards allow cardholders to graduate to a partially- or fully-unsecured version of the card after a certain number of on-time payments.
Credit-builder cards are fully unsecured credit cards geared toward consumers with low-to-average credit. Card issuers that offer these types of cards may charge higher fees to help offset their risk. So if you can afford the security deposit, you may want consider applying for a secured card with no annual fee before looking at high-fee unsecured cards.
If you’re enrolled as a college student and are over 18 years of age, a student credit card could help you begin building your credit before graduation. But if you’re under 21 years of age, you’ll need to provide proof of income on your application, or you’ll need to become an authorized user on your parent’s, guardian’s or another adult’s account who is over the age of 21.
How can you build your credit to get a better card?
One of the most important things to do in order to help build credit is to pay your credit card bills on time every month. Your payment history has the strongest influence on both your VantageScore® 3.0 and FICO® credit scores. Making a late payment even just once or twice can significantly affect your scores.
Next, you’ll want to pay attention to your credit utilization rate, which is the percentage of your available credit that’s being used at any given time. Credit utilization is one of the most important credit-scoring factors for the VantageScore and FICO scoring models. So aiming to keep your credit utilization below 30% is a good start.
Other ways to improve your credit include building up a long credit history and having a healthy mix of revolving credit and installment loans on your credit reports. Finally, try to avoid opening too many credit cards in a short period of time. Submitting numerous applications could result in several hard inquiries that lower your scores — and can also signal to lenders that you use credit in an unpredictable way. It can lower the average age of your credit, too.
What should you look for when you’re picking a credit card?
What to look for in a credit card could depend on your credit health. Those with strong credit may focus on the rewards and redemption options that cards offer. But if you have bad or damaged credit, you may want to focus on cards that offer no or low fees, competitive purchase APRs, and credit-score requirements that you can meet.
You’ll want to avoid cards that charge exorbitant annual fees or high purchase APRs, which can be costly if you carry a balance. Also, pay attention to any “gotcha” fees like penalty APRs on late payments — or monthly maintenances fees, which get added on top of the card’s annual fee if it charges one.
Finally, consider the card’s credit requirements. Just because a card markets itself to borrowers with lower scores doesn’t necessarily mean they accept all applicants. If you’re really worried about your scores, you may want to stick with secured cards. They’re generally easier to be approved for because your collateral helps offset the lender’s risk.
Should you apply for a secured card or a regular card?
If you have good credit, then traditional, unsecured credit cards are the better option, since they offer many benefits that secured credit cards do not. This includes lower interest rates, low or no fees, and cash back. But if you have bad credit and are struggling to qualify for traditional unsecured cards, a secured card could be a better choice for you.
Often the question boils down to whether your priority is minimizing your immediate out-of-pocket expense or your overall cost. In many cases, unsecured cards will be a better option if you’re looking to reduce your initial cash requirement, because these types of cards don’t require a security deposit. And while most secured credit cards require a security deposit of $200 or more, the annual fees charged on unsecured credit-builder cards are often less than $100.
It’s important to point out that once you pay the annual fee on the card, you can’t get that money back. Security deposits, on the other hand, are often refundable after you close the account, so long as you’ve completely paid off your balance. So if you can find a no-fee secured card, your out-of-pocket cost will be zero once your deposit has been refunded. There are also some secured cards that offer you the option to “graduate” to an unsecured option and return your security deposit after a period where you demonstrate good habits, like paying on time and in-full. In the long run, secured cards could be the more affordable option — even though they can put a bigger dent in your bank account up-front.
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†† The opinions you read here come from our editorial team. Credit Vana receives compensation from third-party advertisers, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions. Our marketing partners don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. It’s accurate to the best of our knowledge when it’s posted.